Notebook: Is Tire Management Back?

Greg Biffle

Tire management has been important the last couple of races. Will it continue to be that way? (Photo: Getty Images)

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Is it coincidence or a sign that tire management will be more critical this season?

In the past two NASCAR Sprint Cup races, tire management has played a role and some forecast it could be important in more races.

For years drivers have wanted a tire that wore so that they had to manage it, but not everyone was pleased with the results last week at Auto Club Speedway where about a dozen teams had problems with left-side tires. Among those who had tire issues were Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A Goodyear official cited low air pressure as a “common denominator’’ in the problems. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the bumps on the backstretch played a role, along with greater downforce on the car. Jeff Gordon said that Goodyear “was not prepared ... for what happened.’’ Kyle Busch said he didn’t have any problems and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates didn’t report any issues either.

Tire management also played a role the week before at Bristol. So, is this a sign of things to come?

“This tire didn’t have any margin,’’ Keselowski said after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway. “We have probably a half a dozen tires remaining that have no margin, and I would expect similar issues through the season. No margin from last year and we have increased the demand significantly. If you are going to fix it, you either have to change the margin on the tire or put the cars back to their configuration last year where they were less harsh on the tires.’’

Greg Biffle had a tire problem at Auto Club, but said the issue is not with Goodyear.

“I think tire management is down to the driver, kind of like fuel economy,’’ Biffle told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning. “Look at what you’re asking Goodyear to do. We’re asking them for tires that wear out and a have a lot of grip.’’

The Cup series heads to Martinsville Speedway this weekend and similar issues are not expected because of the lower speeds. The next high-speed race is in two weeks at Texas. 

Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales for Goodyear, doesn’t foresee any issues with tires at Texas. Teams will have the same left-side tire at Texas since 2011.  

“Typically, we don’t see the same issues at Texas that we do (at Auto Club),’’ Stucker said.

LOOKING FOR MORE

Even though Kyle Busch won Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, he says his team can be better.

“We've still got to continue to make our cars better, and I think as a company, as a whole, (Matt Kenseth) showed speed during stints and could be really fast early but then he'd fade hard, and then we could show speed early, not be so good in the middle but then come on at the end,’’ Busch said. “So we're kind of all over the place, I feel like.’’

IMPROVING

Four drivers have improved their finishing position from each race so far this season. 

MIchael Annett finished 37th in the Daytona 500, 34th at Phoenix, 29th at Las Vegas, 26th at Bristol and 19th at Auto Club.

Kyle Larson finished 38th in the Daytona 500, 20th at Phoenix, 19th at Las Vegas, 10th at Bristol and second at Auto Club.

Danica Patrick finished 40th in the Daytona 500, 36th at Phoenix, 21st at Las Vegas, 18th at Bristol and 14th at Auto Club.

Brian Vickers finished 30th in the Daytona 500, 25th at Phoenix, 13th at Las Vegas, ninth at Bristol and seventh at Auto Club.

PIT STOPS

While many note the five different winners in the first five races, it also should be mentioned that five different teams have won races this year. Those teams are: Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick), Team Penske (Brad Keselowski), Carl Edwards (Roush Fenway Racing) and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing). ... Despite missing a race, Denny Hamlin is 11th in the points, while Kevin Harvick, who has one win and has competed in every race this year, is 25th in points. ... The Camping World Truck Series returns to action this weekend for its first race since Daytona last month. 

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